A Google View of Data Sharing

By Joe Francica

At the Map World Forum in Hyderabad, India, Michael Jones, chief technologist of Google Earth, shared his views on the benefits of standards. Google is an Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) principal member and supports efforts to encourage standards adoption. Google has a "democratized" view of data sharing which begins with the vast amount of information that has already been captured by those working in GIS. Jones believes in ways to provide better access to those data. He explained that most geospatial data today is locked away in workstations managed by proprietary software. He was perhaps referring to those data controlled by local and state government departments. "We have to envision a future world where data is published," he said. "We may want to knock on the door of the Survey of India and ask them what data they want to share with the world." Jones' vision is to have "all" geospatial information available to the world and indexed in a way that it can be accessed by those who need it. "Google has a mission to allow more data to be available and interoperable," he said.

Jones is not necessarily concerned with which version of Geography Markup Language (GML) or Web Feature Service (WFS), both OGC standards, is used. He believes the OGC's job is to educate the world about developing standards, because the OGC can gather people to share ideas about their needs. Jones explained that "the conversation leading up to the standard is what's important." He described the OGC as "the United Nations of geospatial users" and highlighted the need for people to "have a path to share data."

"What I see in a year from now is a very different world for geospatial data," said Jones. "The connection between people and mapping is that it is convenient and needed ... If [data] become more convenient, they become more widely used. Mapping is turning from a science only known by GIS professionals ... to amateurs that receive the work of professionals."

Jones gave an example of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake of October 2005 in Pakistan that killed nearly 1,400 people. The earthquake was centered in the Pakistani-controlled Kashmir region whose boundary with India is in dispute. Google approached the Pakistani government to ask permission to use the imagery of the earthquake. The original response was negative, but with pressure from the United Nations, the Pakistani government shared images of the area, which included the disputed border area, to support non-governmental organizations' rescue efforts in the region.

Jones asked the audience whether, if the earthquake had been on the Indian side of the border, the Indian government would have allowed use of the imagery. An unidentified member of the audience immediately said "no." Jones encouraged the audience to reconsider how geospatial data can be shared in a more useful way. Certainly, agreements of sharing data, even between countries, are a critical foundation that fosters good policy.

Published Friday, February 2nd, 2007

Written by Joe Francica

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